A man abducted his ex-girlfriend Tuesday and then shot and killed her, her father and his ex-wife before running from the scene and later taking his own life, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said.
Murray Lancaster, 40, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a camper trailer on property belonging to his family, ending a manhunt in the deadly triple shooting in the small Clay County town of Green Cove Springs, Beseler said. Lancaster is a nephew of former Clay County Sheriff Scott Lancaster.
"This is a terrible and tragic event for our community," Beseler said. "It brings to light the fragile nature of life and how things can happen in just a moment to ruin many, many lives and fracture many, many families."
Beseler said Murray Lancaster kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Valorie Short, at gunpoint from a Green Cove Springs hair salon on Orange Avenue about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday and drove her to the Magnolia West.
Beseler said Murray ran into Short's father, Welland "Buddy" Short, there and then shot and killed them both. Officers responding to 911 calls about the double shooting at County Road 315 and Medinah Lane found the two victims dead.
"I'm thinking it's a car accident because I see the windshield all busted out. And I look and I see the guy is unconscious so I asked the lady, 'Is he OK?' thinking that might be his wife but she's so terrified and shaken and all she can say is, 'There's a green truck! There's a green truck! Follow that green truck!' The guy just left. And I'm like, 'He hit and ran?' And she said, 'No, he just shot him! He just killed him!'" said Raymond Smith, who drove by just minutes after the shooting.
While responding to that call, police got another call about a shooting at the Rosemary Hill Road landfill.
Lancaster had driven there to find his ex-wife, Erica Green Lancaster, who worked there, and shot and killed her, Beseler said.
Erica Green and Valorie Short each had two children, and sources tell News4Jax one of the women was pregnant.
Beseler said all the children are safe and with family.
"This is a very small, tight-knit community and even the suspects are people who have grown up here, went to school with all of us, and are well thought of, and it just compounds the tragedy so much more," Beseler said. "We know the families. We know the pain that this event caused."
Beseler personally knows former Sheriff Scott Lancaster, and was the one to break the news to him that his nephew was dead.
"I know probably from his standpoint, it made it easier talking to a friend, someone that he knew," Beseler said. "I've known the Lancaster family my whole life. I go to church with them. It's just a really sad time. I've watched these children grow. I've known them my whole life. When you know the victims and you know the people involved, it makes it a lot harder."
Investigators said they believe Lancaster had a plan in the works for quite sometime and carried it out Tuesday.
"It didn't just happen," Green Cove Springs Police Department spokesperson Kimberly Robinson said. "We don't know what his mindset was. We don't know what the triggers were. He did attempt to make contact her with last night. It's unfortunate."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will be investigating.
Triple shooting manhunt ends
Beseler said Lancaster fled the scene in a gray/silver pickup truck, which was later found outside the Lancaster family home on Idlewild Avenue (State Road 16). A .223-caliber rifle was found in the truck, Beseler said.
Clay County SWAT teams surrounded a nearby camper on the property and later were able to enter the camper and found Lancaster dead, Beseler said.
No law enforcement personnel were injured, he said.
Before retreating to the camper and taking his own life, likely before law enforcement arrived at the scene, Lancaster contacted family members, posted messages to Facebook and attempted to see his children at their school, Beseler said. He was not able to see them and left a message instead.
Beseler said there’s a sense of pride in the way his deputies and other agencies handled the far-reaching situation, and a sense of relief that they are safe.
"While we are sorry that the suspect is deceased, I'm glad that our deputies are not going to have to confront someone that killed three people and possibly have a really bad outcome there," Beseler said.
Rampage begins with abduction
A woman who works at the Keeping It Classy Hair and Nail Salon where Valorie Short was kidnapped said Short had been working at the salon since January.
Shelley Danforth said Lancaster had been calling Short leading up to the abduction, but she had not been answering his calls because of the no-contact order she had filed against him.
Danforth said Short did not talk about any warning signs of violence before the March battery arrest.
Danforth said Lancaster went to Short's home Tuesday to try to block her in and keep her from leaving for work. She was able to "run him off" and showed up at the salon. She decided not to call police.
Lancaster came to the salon, walked over to Short and told her to come with him, but she refused. He said he had a gun in his pocket, so she agreed to walk outside with him, Danforth said.
They started arguing at the door, and Danforth walked over and told them they couldn't fight there.
Danforth said that's when Lancaster pulled out a gun and pointed it at her, grabbed Short and said, "We're going to go find your daddy and settle this."
Danforth said the day before, Lancaster had sent her message trying to track down where Short's father worked, but then wrote again and said, "Never mind, I got what I needed."
Danforth said after pulling the gun, Lancaster forced Short into his truck and drove over to a construction site where Buddy Short was working, near Magnolia West. Then he shot and killed them both.
James Thigpen, who works at a business near the hair salon, said the abduction and news of the deadly shooting left workers in the area shaken.
"By the time we heard about it and came out, he was already gone," James Thigpen said. "There's nothing they could do about it. He was going to take her, one way or another."
Thigpen said Lancaster banged Short's head on the truck when he pushed her inside at gunpoint after they argued in front of the salon.
He described Short as a pleasant woman, who was always smiling.
“She was just a really down-to-earth person," he said. "She was just really nice.”
I-TEAM: Shooter had violent history
Lancaster, a Green Cove Springs resident, was arrested in March on charges of battery of Valorie Short and resisting arrest without violence, the I-TEAM learned.
Valorie Short told police that she took Lancaster's keys to keep him from drinking and driving. He got angry and "grabbed her wrist and shoved her aggressively against the basketball hoop pole. He held her against the pole with his forearms and his elbow on her neck."
Short told police that she fought back and her dad overheard nearby and intervened.
When police arrived, they found the two men arguing and Lancaster approached police in an aggressive manner with his fists balled up. He was arrested.
After the battery charge was filed, Valorie Short got a restraining order against Lancaster, which he was later arrested for violating, deputies said.
“They were in a relationship and then they broke up, then things got crazy. It was an ongoing court thing,” Short's roommate, Brittany Burnley, said.
He had a hearing on the battery charge scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Clay County Courthouse.
"That might of been a trigger, we're not sure. We're still putting the pieces of the puzzle together and really trying to get to the bottom of it and bring closure for the family," Robinson said.
News4Jax spoke to Dr. Gail Patin with Hubbard House, which helps victims of domestic violence. Patin said anyone who's a victim of abuse can call 1-800-500-1119 to find the nearest shelter.
"Safety planning needs to happen. The person needs to find a safe place they can go that the abuser doesn't know. It might mean safety planning with your coworkers or supervisor at work because often times, as you see in this case, a person will show up at their victim's place of employment and that not only puts victim in danger it also puts colleagues or supervisors in danger as well," Patin said.
Lancaster was married twice before he married Erica Green. His first two marriages each lasted less than one year.
One of his former mothers-in-law told the I-TEAM on Tuesday that Lancaster had never been violent before and that his marriage to her daughter ended amicably because the two were too young. She said she was shocked by Tuesday's events.
The Putnam County Sheriff's Office said Lancaster was fired last week from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Putnam County, and he made death threats directed at workers there, deputies said.
Because of those threats, the business was placed on lockdown until the Clay County Sheriff's Office confirmed Lancaster was no longer a threat.
A former co-worker said he knew about Lancaster's domestic problems.
“He called in one day and when he talked to me he said he was having issues with his girlfriend and her father and had gotten arrested, and he had gotten into a fight,” Brian Dasher said. “Me and him talked a lot, and I knew it wasn’t right for him. He had a lot going on. … You never know what a person’s heart carries.”
Dasher said Lancaster's daughter has a birthday coming up soon.
“I’m just praying for the kids,” Dasher said. “The kids are the victims, and the family. It’s a hard thing to do, but hopefully you get through it.”